Sunday, May 27, 2012

The long thrift

Thrifted fabric is both a blessing and a curse. When my friend's two year-old son was obsessed with trains I found this canvas with trains, train line logos, and other old-y fashioned-y train related images. Perfect! I would make him a backpack with a matching lunch bag. Shoot. I had so much fabric (for a mere $3.99) I could probably make him some funky train pants! It was going to be great. Fast forward to today and that kid is eight and no longer interested in trains.

Luckily I have my own train-loving two year old now. And he has a number of training-loving little buddies. This weekend we were scheduled to go to a double second birthday party. We had purchased two of our favorite books by David Shannon and going off my last post I decided to make gift backpacks. I wanted to make these a little faster, so I didn't do all the details from the last project. I also wasn't as diligent when working out the numbers. I wanted to make them big enough to fit the larger size hardcover books. These do, but just barely. I had wanted to make French seams (my new favorite sewing trick), but I miscalculated all over the place and ended up with no French seams. On the side seams I had to make quarter inch seams and zig-zag stitch over the seam allowance. On the bottom I had done the first step of the French seam before I realized I wouldn't have enough fabric, so I made seam bindings and covered up the exposed seam. It all turned out fine. Instead of a flap like in last week's effort, these have Velcro closures. Instead of fabric straps, I used webbing with d-rings. Oh, and I didn't line these bags. They really were quickies, so I am counting them as 1pt total.

Next time I make one of these my plan is to make a gusset so it can hold more than a single skinny book, perhaps a snack and a couple of toys along with the skinny book. My kid needs a backpack of his own, too. I have pieces cut out for one of these in the same fabric, but haven't had the fortitude to start sewing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A little something

As an auxiliary wedding vow, I promised John that I would stop buying wrapping paper. It was a good vow. Wrapping paper is terrible for the environment and a waste of money. I could use up what I had or reuse what I received. For a while when I wasn't sewing I did use scraps and fat quarters to wrap gifts, but recently I realized I could make a vessel for a gift that could be used afterwards!

When I knew I was going to see an old friend and his 20 month old daughter last weekend, I ordered up a favorite Elephant & Piggie book and set to work on a little backpack inspired by this backpack, a tutorial from Chickpea Studios (scroll to the bottom of the page). Instead of using old jeans, I used some Japanese linen for the exterior. The original wasn't lined, but I used a heavy weight cotton to line my version. This also provided some interest to the cute, but fairly neutral linen. I have a few more toddler books to give in the coming weeks so I am planning on making more. When I do I will document the modifications that I made here.

In the meantime, here are shots of the inside flap and the back (and a point for me!).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remind me . . .

Pretty Japanese linen
. . . not to go into millinery. A few weeks ago I came across this endorsement of a sunhat pattern from the book,  Craft Challenge: Dozens of Ways to Repurpose a Pillowcase and thought it might be the perfect pattern for this beautiful Japanese floral linen I have been holding onto for many years. I checked the book out from the library and that was where my troubles began. The first thing I had to do was enlarge the pattern pieces 400%. This never works out for me, but the price was right (free) so I spent some time at the copier one afternoon. I never got a full pattern piece, but figured I could manage. I figured wrong.

It looks wearable, but . . .
The next issue came when I cut out the wrong size for the band of the hat and compensated by cutting out a larger size piece for the back of the band. This resulted in the crown piece (which seemed small, did I really blow up those pieces 400%?) not fitting. To top it off, I am not really sure what size piece I cut out for the brim. Yikes. This was a disaster! Thank goodness I was not using the precious linen and instead chose to start with a remnant of heavy brown linen that I picked up at SCRAP.

Lessons learned:
. . .wonky.
  1. Muslins are NOT a waste of time, especially when you have no idea what you are doing.
  2. That thick linen frays like the dickens. Does all linen do this?
  3. If the crown piece looks too small, it probably is too small.
  4. My head is bigger than I think it is.
I am counting this project as done and throwing it in with my kid's toys. One point earned.
No, seriously, it's sewn like that

Monday, May 14, 2012

In which I do the numbers

 It is time to do the numbers because I have achieved my first 20 points! It has only been a few weeks since I conceived of this project, but I am counting projects since the beginning of this year when I vowed to dump my stash. The first three projects were pre-proclamation. The rest were since mid-April.
  • Curtains for the neighbors. This project was not from my stash, but that bag lingered in my sewing room long enough to count. I have no idea of the yardage = 1pt
  • Matching PJs for my friend and her daughter = 2.5pts
  • Yoga mat bag for my MIL = 1pt
  • 2 little pouches for 2 little girls = 1pt
  • Yoga mat bag for me = 1pt
  • Dress N from Stylish Dress book = 2pts
  • Fixed cute sweater I bought second hand with a split sleeve seam* = 1pt
  • Fixed grey shirt where I took out the side tag and split the seam* = 1pt
  • Hemmed green cords that I bought second hand over a year ago* = 1pt
  • Hand "blind-hemmed" door skirt = 1pt
  • Sunglass case disaster learning experience = 1pt
  • Tiny boy sunhat = 1pt 
  • The long suffering duvet* = 9.5pts 
    Darling Ranges pattern by Megan Neilsen
Total=24 points! 

With these projects I added five articles of clothing in or back in to my wardrobe, I made five gifts, and learned that screw-ups are important sewing lessons. Plus, I got to reward myself!

A few weeks ago A Verb for Keeping Warm's Kristine and I talked sewing for a long time. I went on and on about the rage around the Darling Ranges dress by Megan Neilsen. When I went back in the other day, she had started carrying Megan's patterns. I knew immediately what my reward would be! I can't wait to start planning my Darling Ranges.

*I moved all of these mending/alteration projects from my old house! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Useful is the new glamorous

In my sewing dream world, I make clothes. I make clothes for me and they all fit well and make me look effortlessly stylish. In this fantasy life whenever I wear something that perfectly suits me, of course, I have made it because if it were purchased at Target it would not fit so well or be that perfect shade of plumeuse (yes, I did just make a smoosh name of my two favorite colors).

But in this life, my real life, sewing is most often utilitarian. But this is not disappointing to me -- sewing for utility is a great thing. It makes me feel self-sufficient, it prolongs the life of useful objects, it saves money, and is fulfilling, if not as glamorous as making my whole wardrobe. With that said, it is gratifying to present you with my long-awaited duvet cover. For you this wait has been mere seconds, but for me it has been so long since I started this project that I can only guess that it has been five or six years. To say that it has been longer would be too shameful.

Back in the last decade, we bought a nice duvet for the cold winters in our old apartment. I have a terrible allergy to down, so we purchased a synthetic one that is truly as warm as down. I insisted that we did not need to spend the extra money on a cover and that I would make one. I started out strong by quickly purchasing some bedding on clearance to repurpose into a duvet. I measured it out, sewed a border on what would be the underside to make the two sides the same size, and then I abandoned it. I folded up the ten or so yards of fabric and shoved them in with the rest of my fabric. Case closed.

A couple of weeks ago I moved something in my sewing room and uncovered this unfinished cover. All these years our duvet has been exposed and really not that appealing. I still liked the main fabric for the cover, maybe even more as the yellow and green fit with the fabric I have to make curtains for our bedroom. I set to work and after a few nights and a couple of afternoons our bed is looking better (I will do something about those pillow shams eventually).

The last time I had a duvet cover made like this (back when I would get my mom to do sewing projects) one of the things that drove me crazy was that the duvet would slide down inside the cover. This time I bought some snap tape and sewed two snaps at five places inside along the top seam. I matched those places up and sewed the other side of the snap tape to the comforter. So far no slipping duvet! My seams might not match, but I do think I am already improving a bit.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The point system

I am a woman motivated by incentives. Plus, as a librarian, I like to categorize and sort things. This started at a very young age, when I divided up my Grandpa's rock collection by color and subdivided by size until everything was sorted out and assigned (not joking) a Family and Species name that I had made up.

When facing my fabric stash I knew that I could not sew just for the sake of working down my fabric stash. I knew that I couldn't even just sew for the sake of becoming a better seamstress.There had to be a built in reward system. I had to get something for all my hard work. And on another level I wanted to improve my fabric stash. It is filled with a mish mash of quilting fabric, scraps from SCRAP, upholstery weight, flannel, fake fur (!!!), oil cloth . . . the list goes on. However, if I wanted to make a solid color dress or really a solid color anything I would have the choice of a yard of red cotton poly blend or that black heavy wool coating I got super cheap to make a cape out of. Yes, a cape. This was before capes were cool.

My first idea was to get 52 projects/yards out of my stash. Why 52? I was thinking that 1 a week was a decent goal and that I would take a year with this project. At every quarter or 13 projects/yards I would get a reward of some sort like a pattern or fabric. This was a good idea, but I realized was a little like binge dieting. I might get the first wave of fabric out of my stash, but then what? Would I just gain it all back?

I knew I needed something sustainable, so I decided that for every 20 points I will get a reward. This way I would be motivated to keep sewing, to up the ante, to explore and not just acquire. My hope is that this will help me grow as a seamstress, build pieces that I am excited about into my wardrobe and have a reasonable, usable stash at some point.

Points are defined as follows:
  • Any project that uses under 2 yards of fabric=1 point. I figure the projects that take under a yard will balance out with those that take just over or close to 2 yards. No fractions in this area.
  • Projects over 2 yards = 2pts + actual yardage over 2 yards in half yard increments (rounded in mathematical terms). This is not as convoluted as it sounds. A project that takes 2.25 would get 2 points, a project that takes 2.75 yards would get 3pts, but a project somewhere in the middle of those numbers would get 2.5. Again, it would all balance out at some point.
  • Mending, alterations, redesigns=1 point for each project that gets out of my sewing space and into my wardrobe.
  • Donated fabric=Half of actual yardage in points. For example, two yards given away would equal one point. This will encourage me to use fabric rather than dump it, but also encourage me to part with fabric that I know that I am not going to use. I will have to have a substantial amount to give away at once to make it worth it.
I will likely reference this system from time to time when I am posting about projects, but at 20 point markers I will post an accounting along with the reward. Coming soon . . .

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Being new to sewing blog scene I have just caught on to Me-Made-May. While I don't think that my sewing output could clothe me for long, I do have my knitting to add to the mix. Since weather in the Bay Area can shift from warm to cool to cold within an hour I might be able to wear something handmade every day this month (with repeats, of course).

A third life!
Today is May 8th and I am wearing my door skirt. This skirt started its life as a highly gathered small waisted circle style skirt that I bought at Goodwill many years ago. At the time I had just taken an A-line skirt class and made a simple skirt with waist-facing and an invisible zipper, so I harvested this awesome fabric to make another. I took off the waistband, washed the fabric, ironed it and cut out the pieces to preserve the original blind hem. The result was vaguely cute, but honestly the waist was too low and it was way too long. I wore it once and awhile, but eventually it went back to the sewing room to be harvested for something new. A few weeks ago I tried it on to see what could be done with it. On my post-baby body the skirt fit at my natural waist, but was still too long (apparently I had grown around the middle, but failed to get any taller) so I sucked it up and re-hemmed by hand in an attempt to make a blind hem. The hem is so-so, but the skirt is much cuter and will be worn more often! Plus it was one point towards my stashdown efforts.

As it turns out without even trying I had been participating in MMM for a few days:
  • May 7th: One of my five-minute skirts 
  • May 6th: Dress N from Stylish Dress Book (picture to come)
  • May 5th: the Penumbra T 
  • May 4th: not exactly true to the spirit, but I wore a pair of pants I've had for over a year and finally hemmed last week, so it feels like I made them (plus I got a point since they were out of the sewing room). Beyond that I can't remember what I wore, but not bad for unintentional participation.

Practice makes . . .

Over the weekend I decided to tackle a long unfinished project that would result in more than nine yards exiting my fabric stash. Some years ago I planned and purchased fabric for a duvet for our warm, but white, comforter. The fabric,actually sheets and a repurposed duvet for a twin bed,was cut and sized, but never sewn. So this weekend I double-checked the sizing and sewed three sides. I decided to finish the bottom with Velcro, but only had two yards and needed three. A trip to Discount Fabrics was fruitless as they only had the soft half (is there a proper name for this?)of the size Velcro I needed, so I am left hanging. Thanks to Adrienne at A Verb for Keeping Warm I have an idea for finishing! More on the duvet and my trip to Verb soon.

To have something to show for myself I decided to tackle two small projects yesterday. The first was a case for my new cheapo sunglasses in hopes of limiting the number of scratches and extending their lifespan. How hard could this be, I thought. When I couldn't (and still can't) find my nice sewing shears I should have recognized it as an omen, turned back and spent the afternoon cleaning my sewing room so I could find them, but no. I started with a 7.5" x 9" piece of fabric and backed it with a piece of quilt batting. I busted out my trusty walking foot and decided to experiment with some freeform quilting. Turns out that though it wasn't pretty, it also was easier than I thought it would be. Hurray!

Loose threads, the sign of a true perfectionist!
The next step was to line it with some fleece to make it soft inside. I wanted this to be quick and easy so decided that exposed seams would be fine. I sewed the sides together and popped it right side out, but the fleece was too bulky. I could fit my sunglasses in, but it didn't look pretty. I forged ahead and decided that if I could get the bias tape around the edge I could lock down the fleece and live with the bulk. Well, turns out that the bias tape could not reach around all the layers. I tried to sew two lengths of it together. Still nope. F-it, I thought, I turned the piece inside out and using some old crappy paper scissor I cut out the lining. I turned down the raw edge, sewed the Franken-tape over the edge and SCENE. The result is not pretty, but it is functional. I will definitely try this again and rethink the size and lining issues. In the meantime 1 point towards my stash down!

Since I wasn't feeling the rush of victory I decided to mush on, as my Gram would have said, and sew up this adorable hat for my little guy. I had the pieces cut out, so I was sure to finish it quickly. I did and it would be absolutely perfect if he was 9 months old, which he's not. He is over two and has a big head (20+ inches!), so into the gift pile it goes. Let me say there was nothing wrong with the tutorial. I just miscalculated and didn't account for the seam allowance in my crown piece. Here is the finished product and I hope to make another before the end of the week.

Small hat, outside and in

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sew far to go

Welcome to Yards to Go, the blog documenting my sewing exploits. If you have come here from my knitting podcast, Stash and Burn, thanks for visiting!

I started sewing sometime in the late 1990s on a used Singer sewing machine that gave me nothing but trouble. At the time I made lots of purses, bags, and started making clothes. A few years later I got a lovely Bernina, which sews beautifully, but it got some direct competition from knitting, which I picked up in 2002. Over the years, my interest in sewing has waxed and waned, but my interest in acquiring fabric did not. Going into a fabric store usually resulted in taking something out with me. Occasionally I have gone through the stash and carted bags and bags away, but when I moved last fall I still brought more than eight good-sized containers with me.


At the beginning of this year, I felt completely overwhelmed and resolved to just get rid of it all. That was it. I was done. I had been sewing on and off for years and I didn't feel like I was improving or that the process was getting easier. It just felt like I had a lot of fabric. At the same time could I really just get rid of it all?

The weather started to warm up and I started thinking about sewing dresses. Visions new curtains danced in my head. Maybe I could make stroller bags out of that cute Japanese linen. And another line of thinking came about.

Perhaps if I pushed myself to sew more often, I would get better. The process would feel less daunting. And maybe I could even make more of my clothes. So I started trolling sewing blogs and decided to give it a try with one catch: I have to use the fabric that I already own.

I decided to start this blog for two reasons. One, to have a place to document the use of my stash. I hope over time to reduce what I have by more than half. To have a manageable stash of fabric that allows for me to purchase for projects that I want to make. Two, I get so much from the online sewing community--tutorials for projects, ideas for patterns, and reviews and hints on patterns that I am making--that I thought I should contribute by sharing what I am learning in the process.

My plan is for this to be a sewing blog, but I am an avid knitter so I will probably feature a bit of knitting along the way.